- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

BEIJING China's foreign minister yesterday repeated Beijing's claim that an American spy plane deliberately knocked down a Chinese fighter, feeding a frenzy of anger on Chinese Web sites.

"It was not our plane which hit the American plane, but the other way around," Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said in Paris after meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.

"The American side has explained several times to our ambassador that the incident will have no impact on the general state of relations between China and the U.S. I hope an adequate solution can be found to this question," Mr. Tang said.

A U.S. Navy spy plane made an emergency landing in Chinese territory yesterday after colliding with a Chinese military jet over the South China Sea. All 24 U.S. crew members were reported safe on the island province of Hainan.

Reaction among the Chinese public was swift and damning. Leading news Web sites were flooded with angry comments demanding that China punish the United States for challenging Chinese sovereignty.

"Salute our brave pilots," said one. "The South China Sea is our territory. We must teach the Americans a lesson and let them know China is not Iraq."

"Do not forget the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia," wrote another in reference to the 1999 incident from which Sino-U.S. relations have barely recovered.

China's leading English-language state newspaper today derided U.S. explanations that the midair collision was an accident, and drew parallels with the 1999 Belgrade bombing, which Washington blamed on outdated maps.

A mocking cartoon accompanying the article in the China Daily depicted the EP-3 spy plane at Lingshui airport with a speech bubble coming from the cockpit saying: "It might be due to another map error."

The article said the incident revealed "U.S. arrogance in managing bilateral relations."

But some analysts in Beijing called for reason to prevail.

"If both sides keep blaming the other, then there will be problems resolving this incident," professor Jin Canrong of the Institute of American Studies in Beijing told The Washington Times. "There is a gap in the stance of both governments, who must sit down together and find the real reason for the collision."

Headlines yesterday in newspapers across China blamed the United States for the accident and showed concern about the state of relations between China and the Bush administration.

"Sino-U.S. relations: Adding frost to snow," said the front-page headline in the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao. The article characterized the incident as the most serious diplomatic friction ever between China and the United States.

In Hong Kong, about 100 people protested outside the U.S. Consulate. They accused the American plane of improperly flying over Chinese territory and said officials in Washington were too cowardly to admit it.

"I'm furious," said one of the demonstrators, Chan Chi-yan, a 70-year-old retiree. "Chinese people cannot be insulted."

In Taiwan, the collision was the lead story of hourly television newscasts and made front-page headlines in all the main newspapers, which ran large photos of EP-3 surveillance planes and maps of the plane's flight path.

Taiwan is of prime concern to all the actors in this drama. Before its mission was cut short, the spy plane is likely to have been monitoring military signals indicating missile buildup on the Fujianese coast off Taiwan.

Beijing views the island republic as a renegade province to be recovered by force, if necessary. Sunday's collision comes just two weeks before President Bush must decide whether to override mainland Chinese objections and sell Taiwan the advanced weapons its military says are necessary to ensure its survival.

The Japanese government appealed for China and the United States to settle the dispute quickly for the sake of East Asia's fragile security.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Japan hopes the United States and China will "swiftly and smoothly" resolve any differences over the accident.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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